Hayley Mills is finest recognized for her roles in “Pollyanna” and “The Parent Trap.” (Christopher L. Proctor / For The Times)
Hayley Mills at all times knew Walt Disney performed a formative function in her life. After all, the studio founder was the one to solid the then-unknown Brit in 1960’s “Pollyanna,” providing her a seven-image deal that may make her one of many most famous child stars on the earth.
But it wasn’t till she discovered herself contained in the Disney archives 5 years in the past that Mills realized simply how profoundly her id had been formed by him. In 2016, throughout a go to to the Burbank lot, the actor was invited to discover three bins that contained hidden treasure — beforehand unseen correspondence between Mills, her dad and mom and Walt himself.
The Disney she noticed mirrored within the notes didn’t precisely resemble the genial father determine who’d as soon as toured her round his theme park and gifted her a gold allure bracelet. He didn’t need her in any “heavy dramas or sex involvements” as a young person — the starring function in Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita” was shortly shot down — and refused to let Mills’ dad and mom “run the show.”
Back in London, Mills instructed her two sons about what she’d unearthed on the lot. For years, she’d mulled the thought of writing a memoir about her distinctive childhood. Now, her children insisted she attempt once more: “You really must do it, mum, before you forget your name.”
“I didn’t even know if I was capable of it,” Mills remembers. “But my eldest son, Crispian, said he would help me come up with a proper plan. And that made all the difference in the world, because I realized I wasn’t going to be alone.”
Even at 75, Mills is constant to come back to phrases with how her girlhood reverberates — therefore the title of her e book, “Forever Young,” which comes out subsequent Tuesday. In the memoir, she writes of “sleepwalking” by her early profession, solely now taking her “first real chance to understand and take ownership of the strange and remarkable things that happened to me.”
Mills focuses on her lengthy wrestle to shed the saccharine “Pollyanna” picture, calling to thoughts latest Disney stars like Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato who rebelled in opposition to the squeaky-clear Mouse House. And but regardless of a bout with bulimia and a battle to maintain her childhood wages, Mills in some way stays unembittered — an outlook she credit, partly, to “Pollyanna.”
In her dwelling workplace, Mills sits peacefully surrounded by the ghosts of her previous — performing trophies, framed pictures, a handwritten observe affixed to the wall. It’s early night in her dwelling close to the Thames River when she seems on a video display, the identical blond coronary heart-formed bangs curving round her temples that she wore as a lady.
“I ought to get a big Japanese screen and put it behind me so people can’t see,” she says with amusing. “I’m not really a hoarder, but it’s difficult to get rid of things that one has associations with.”
Her hoarding tendencies aided her in writing the memoir, nonetheless, as she referred to as upon the stacks of journals she started conserving at age 12. Then her son, Crispian — a screenwriter who’s labored with Simon Pegg, helped to tease out his mom’s tales; he additionally gave her a stack of index playing cards and instructed her to start jotting her reminiscences on them. Together, they organized the completed playing cards on the ground and Mills set off to put in writing on her personal.
Hayley Mills at her dwelling in England, the place she pieced collectively her new memoir on index playing cards. (Christopher L. Proctor / For The Times)
The preliminary pages had been sufficient to curiosity Gretchen Young, vp of Grand Central Publishing.
“She wasn’t holding back,” remembers Young, who went on to accumulate and edit Mills’ e book. “She faced a ton of challenges while maintaining this youthful public image that the adults around her were invested in. To me, that had echoes of today’s young child stars.”
Mills was born right into a showbiz household. Her father, John Mills, was a effectively-recognized actor who’d starred in “Great Expectations” and her mom, Mary Hayley Bell, was a playwright. One day, when she was 12, Hayley was bouncing round the home singing TV jingles whereas her father was assembly with a director. The filmmaker was so taken with the woman’s charisma that he determined to solid her because the lead in his subsequent venture, “Tiger Bay.” Watching that efficiency, a Disney producer thought she is perhaps proper for a remake of a 1920 youngsters’s traditional.
“Pollyanna” is the story of an orphan, first played by Mary Pickford, who is taken in by her wealthy, cold aunt. Despite her circumstances, the pigtailed protagonist maintains an upbeat attitude — optimism that’s tested when she falls from a tree and suffers possibly permanent paralysis.
The reboot was a massive hit and turned Mills into a household name.
“Walt described her to me as ‘the best talent to come into the picture industry in the past 25 years,’” wrote gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in a 1960 Times column. “Even then I wasn’t prepared for John Mills’ amazing little girl.”
After she played a pair of long-lost twin sisters in “The Parent Trap” the next yr, Mills’ reputation skyrocketed. At one level, she says, greater than 7,000 items of fan mail every week had been despatched to her at Disney. One letter included a diamond ring; one other provided to ship an otter to stay in her bathtub.
But again dwelling within the United Kingdom, her life remained principally the identical. Sure, the whole lot appeared quite glamorous on her journeys to Hollywood, when she was put up within the Beverly Hills Hotel. At boarding faculty, although, they had been nonetheless feeling the aftereffects of wartime austerity; college students weren’t allowed to go away the desk till they’d eaten all the meals on their plates.
From the outset, Mills’ profession was tied to her father’s. Disney promised her dad a significant function in “The Swiss Family Robinson” if she accepted the phrases of its contract. (10,000 kilos for “Pollyanna” — or about $235,000 in 2020 — with a ten,000 pound enhance annually. No residuals.)
“I knew Daddy was proud of me, but he never spoke of it,” Mills writes within the e book. “By glossing over things that were real and important, like being awarded an Oscar, they were unwittingly denying milestones in my life. … I was left with the overwhelming conviction that somehow my lucky break had been a mistake — and I started to feel guilty about my success.”
Compounding the drama, Mills misplaced the statue — which was half the dimensions of a grown-up Oscar — many years later. After engaged on a 3-month-lengthy job in America, she returned dwelling to seek out it had both been misplaced or stolen. When she requested the academy for a substitute, she was rebuffed.
“After they gave me my little statuette, they stopped doing them,” she explains. “From then on, when children like Tatum O’Neal won, she got a good, ol’ big-sized Oscar. They broke the mold of [my] Oscar.”
It’s been harder to shake the status that got here together with the function for which she gained it. Mills speaks with each immense gratitude and delicate frustration about “Pollyanna.”
“It did seem to kind of slow my development into being an adult,” she acknowledges. “Actors are so much braver today. You look at Daniel Radcliffe from ‘Harry Potter,’ how brave he’s been with his career. He’s really gone out on a limb, and I admire that so much.”
As a lady, Mills says, she was extra preoccupied with pleasing the adults round her — frightened of disappointing all the grown-ups who didn’t need her to develop up. So she started vomiting after each meal, growing bulimia in a bid to remain little and childlike. In 1964, Hopper, the identical Times columnist who had written about “Pollyanna,” noted Mills’ shrunken figure: “Hayley Mills, 18, Thinner and looking like the million stashed away for her,” read the headline.
“Seven pounds thinner than when I last saw her, her 112 pounds are distributed in the correct places,” wrote Hopper. “‘I’m trying to shrink my stomach to peanut size,’ [Mills] said.”
The actor was terrified of following in the footsteps of peers like Garland. Once, while sharing a bill with “The Wizard of Oz” legend at a “Night of 100 Stars” taping, she listened as fellow performers gossiped about how Garland had just emerged from the hospital following a suicide attempt. Standing in the wings, Mills says she watched in shock as John Lennon yelled: “Show us your wrists, Judy!”
The comment wasn’t meant to be cruel, Mills surmises in her memoir: “His own life’s experiences had left deep fissures of anger in him and I’m sure he recognized another’s pain.”
Nevertheless, Mills felt a kinship with Garland. “I could relate to those same feelings of powerlessness, of being a studio ‘asset,’ and the intangible pressure and expectation a child feels,” she writes. “Judy’s was a cautionary tale and I started to worry that unless I broke out of my own little straitjacket, I could end up in a similar place.”
The solution was to escape Disney. When she turned 20, her contract expired and she opted not to renew it. The following year, she fell in love with Roy Boulting, one of her directors on 1966’s “The Family Way” — a movie that also featured her first nude scene. The filmmaker was 53 years old, and the couple’s age difference disturbed both loyal fans and her parents, though that did not stop her from marrying Boulting in 1971.
“They could have handled it differently,” Mills says now, reflecting on her family’s reaction to the unconventional romance. “And how were they to know that this wasn’t the love of my life? I was so absolutely adamant, and I kept reminding them of the example of Oona Chaplin, who married Charlie Chaplin when she was even younger and there was an even larger age difference.”
A 1974 portrait of Mills with her then-husband, Roy Boulting, and their son, Crispian. (Evening Standard/Getty Images)
Mills and Boulting had one child together — Crispian — before divorcing in 1977. The split occurred just a couple of years after a devastating ruling from Her Majesty’s High Court of Justice.
When she turned 21, Mills was finally given access to a trust that had been set up to house her childhood wages. But there was barely anything left in the account. Her savings had been subjected to a 91% tax rate set up by the Inland Revenue to build England back up after the war. She pleaded her case to the British government for years, but her appeal was shot down for good in 1975. If she’d won, she says she would have been able to keep roughly 2 million pounds — well over $17 million today.
“I never saw it,” Mills says, clearly now resigned to the situation. “I knew it was there and one day I would have it, but it was just sort of a dream, and then one day the dream was gone. Occasionally, I think: It would have been nice if I had the freedom to say no.”
After she became a mother, Mills did some stage work and then took a handful of television gigs in the U.S. — like playing the beloved teacher Miss Bliss on “Saved by the Bell.” It wasn’t until Crispian helped his mother put together “Forever Young” that he realized how badly his mother had been “robbed.”
“The way she describes the experience of having all that money taken away is very innocent — like, how can you feel sad for something you never had,” Crispian says. “And I think people will now realize that there is an element of Pollyanna in her that is very real. That was truth coming across on screen.”
At 75, Mills says she’s still interested in taking character parts — but is more keen to spend time with her five grandkids. (Christopher L. Proctor / For The Times)
True to that spirit, Mills insists that even the discovery of those salty Walt Disney letters hasn’t colored her view of the man to whom she owes her career.
“He was a father figure, and fathers do that — say, ‘No, you can’t go to this dance. You can’t go on a motorbike with that boy,’” she says. “That’s life. I used to be extraordinarily lucky to be beneath contract to a studio like that. To a person like that. I used to be not exploited in the best way that we perceive that phrase.”
Mills nonetheless acts often, most lately taking pictures a number of episodes on an Acorn TV drama referred to as “Pitching In.” She says she’s actually solely on the lookout for character elements that don’t require her to “worry about what I look like at 6 in the morning.” She’s primarily concerned about spending time with her 5 grandchildren — to whom her e book is devoted — particularly as a result of working to make up for her misplaced wages took a lot time away from her personal children.
“The more I wrote this book, the more I realized I was talking about everybody’s struggle to grow up,” says Mills. “I think there was a bit of Pollyanna in me to start off with, actually. I do tend to look on the bright side of life.”
This story initially appeared in Los Angeles Times.